Netanyahu, rival report ‘meaningful progress’ in unity talks

Netanyahu, rival report ‘meaningful progress’ in unity talks

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his chief rival said early Tuesday they had made “meaningful progress” in their efforts to form a joint government to confront the coronavirus crisis, agreeing to continue talks this week after a midnight deadline expired.

The late-night announcement provided a glimmer of hope that the sides could end the country’s prolonged political paralysis and avoid a fourth election in just over a year.

In a joint statement, Netanyahu’s Likud party and challenger Benny Gantz’s Blue and White said they had asked the country’s figurehead president for more time “with the aim of completing negotiations to form a national emergency government.”

President Reuven Rivlin, whose duties include overseeing coalition negotiations, agreed to the request to extend negotiations until midnight Wednesday. It said there was an “understanding that they are very close to reaching an agreement.”

The sides said they would resume negotiations early Tuesday.

Ahead of the deadline, Gantz had urged Netanyahu to seal a deal or risk dragging the country into an unwanted election at a time of national crisis.

“Netanyahu, this is our moment of truth. It’s either an emergency national government or, heaven forbid, expensive and unnecessary fourth elections during a crisis. History will not forgive either of us if we run away,” he said in a nationally televised address.

Netanyahu invited Gantz to his official residence for last-ditch negotiations that stretched past midnight.

Israel last month held its third straight election in less than a year, after the previous two ended inconclusively. While the March 2 vote also ended with no clear winner, Gantz was endorsed by a slight majority of lawmakers, prompting Rivlin to give him the chance to form a government.

With his parliamentary majority, Gantz began moving ahead with legislation that would have disqualified Netanyahu, who has been indicted on corruption charges, from serving as prime minister in the future.

But as the coronavirus crisis worsened, Gantz made an about-face and accepted an offer from Netanyahu to pursue a joint government to deal with the pandemic. Gantz’s decision drew heavy criticism from his supporters and caused his Blue and White alliance to crumble.

The sides appeared to be close to a rotation deal in which Netanyahu and Gantz would each serve terms as prime minister.

But last week, negotiations stalled, reportedly over a demand by Netanyahu, who faces an impending corruption trial, to have more influence over judicial appointments.

If their extended negotiations fail, Israel’s Knesset, or parliament, will have three weeks to select a candidate from prime minister from its ranks. If that too fails, Israel will head to extraordinary fourth polls in just over a year.

With the country led by a caretaker government and hobbled by legislative paralysis since the first election was called in late 2018, a fourth vote would extend the political crisis at a time when the country is dealing with its coronavirus outbreak.

Israel has reported over 11,500 cases and at least 116 deaths from the outbreak, which has paralyzed the economy and driven unemployment to record highs.

Throughout three bitter campaigns, Gantz said he would never sit in a government led by Netanyahu as long as he faces corruption charges. But Gantz said the gravity of the coronavirus crisis had convinced him to change his position.

Each of the three elections has been a referendum on Netanyahu, who has portrayed himself as the consummate statesman while trying to play down the charges against him. Charged with accepting bribes, breach of trust and fraud, he has claimed to be a victim of a liberal media and judicial system out to get him.

The coronavirus crisis has provided the long-serving leader with a lifeline. He has helmed the country’s response, positioning himself as a capable, tested leader who has worked his international connections to steer Israel through the crisis. While Netanyahu came up short in previous rounds, that polished image could boost his fortunes in a fourth election.

Despite the heavy cost, Israel appears to be weathering the crisis better than many countries.

If Gantz cannot clinch a deal this week, he does not have the backing of a majority of legislators. His public support is expected to dwindle in a fourth election, leaving the once formidable challenger to Netanyahu desperate to finalize a deal.

Netanyahu is backed by 59 lawmakers, leaving him two seats short of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset. If he cannot reach a deal with Gantz, he might try to lure defectors from other parties to secure a majority and avert elections.

Tia Goldenberg, The Associated Press

Israel

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Just Posted

Parents want school back to normal in September

More than 66,000 parents respond to survey

PHOTO: A street concert is enjoyed by residents of a Red Deer neighbourhood

Residents of Anquetel Close enjoy a musical performance by Marla Torgerson

Trudeau balks at Trump’s suggestion to readmit Russia to G7

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is rejecting Donald Trump’s latest proposal… Continue reading

Solidarity together: Central Albertans protest in Red Deer against racism

There’s no such thing as little bit of racism – even one… Continue reading

Feelings of guilt are behind America’s racial anguish

It’s been a bad week in the United States: six nights of… Continue reading

Canada’s Olympic, Paralympic athletes return to sport with help of $5 million

TORONTO — Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes will return to sport with… Continue reading

MLS players agree to concessions to return to action at Orlando tournament

TORONTO — MLS players have approved taking part in a summer tournament… Continue reading

Ricky Martin makes ‘Pausa’ to channel newly found anxiety

NEW YORK — The world paused and for the first time in… Continue reading

A superhero kid with autism shines in new PBS Kids’ series

NEW YORK — There’s a new crop of superheroes coming to our… Continue reading

SpaceX’s historic encore: Astronauts arrive at space station

SpaceX Dragon capsule pulled up to the station and docked automatically

Ottawa pledges millions to promote holiday travel in Canada during pandemic

Funding announced include $30 million originally earmarked for attracting foreign visitors

Most Read